Holy Week Observances


BY Belayhun Hailu:

Easter is a colorful religious holiday that is celebrated by Christians in different parts of the world to remember the agony, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ every year.
However, the celebration varies from one denomination to another and on date that the holiday rests.
Christians across the globe except followers of the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches celebrated Easter last Sunday. However followers of the Orthodox Christian Churches are going to celebrate Easter on April 28, a week after the rest of the world, because they follow a different Calendar. The Eastern Orthodox Church comprises the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches. The Oriental Orthodox family is comprised of the Ethiopian, Coptic, Armenian, Syrian, Indian and Eritrean Churches, representing some 60 million Christians.

Most of these Churches celebrated each day of the Holy week in various church services. In Ethiopia, Orthodox Christians called the Holy week as Semune Himamat (week of agony and suffering). Each day of the week starting from Palm Sunday has dedicated for some activities of Jesus Christ. The faithful are expected to abstain from hugging and kissing each other starting from Holy Monday till Good Friday in memory of the betrayal of Jesus Christ by Judas. In some parts of the countryside and rarely in towns, some followers walk bare foot during this time.

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday marks the triumphant entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem riding a donkey. Palm Sunday is celebrated a week from Easter Sunday in commemoration of Jesus’ symbolic entry into Jerusalem cheered by a huge crowd of people waving and laying palm tree branches across the road. The crowd accorded a warm welcome to Jesus chanting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Nowadays, the followers of these Churches carry palm tree branches and take the palm to their home as a reminder of the entry of Jesus to Jerusalem.

Russian Orthodox Christians observe the day by waving palm branches, followers in Latin American, particularly in Guatemalans, start a week long precession whereby devotees carry the images of Jesus Christ (Nazareth) and Holy Virgin of Sorrow on their shoulders. The followers wave a cross made of palm leaves. Similar celebration is held by Catholics in Philippines who carry palm branches to mass services in order to be blessed by priests.

In Ethiopia the faithful carry palm leaves to their houses and made crosses to wear as headbands and rings from it to remind the palm leaves that were laid before Jesus’ path.

Holy Monday

It is the Monday of the Holy Week, which is the week before Easter. Eastern and Oriental Churches observe the day through fasting and prayers as well as citing some of the miracles that Jesus Christ has done including the cursing of the fig tree and the cleansing of the Temple.

Holy Tuesday

It is a day to commemorate the parable of the Ten Virgins, which teaches about the Day of Judgment. The Parable of the Ten Virgins, also known as the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins or the Parable of the ten bridesmaids, is about five virgins rewarded since they are prepared for the bridegroom’s arrival, while the five who are disowned as they failed to be prepared. The parable has a clear message about being prepared for the Day of Judgment. The day observed through fasting, prayers and citing biblical verses related to the day.

Holy Wednesday

Holy Wednesday, also called Holy and Great Wednesday, is the Wednesday of Holy Week, dedicated to commemorate the betrayal of Jesus Christ by Judas. After Palm Sunday, the Jewish chief priests gathered and plotted to kill Jesus before the feast of Passover. Jesus betrayed in the kiss of Judas, who made an agreement with the Jewish chief priests to hand over Jesus, on Holy Wednesday. The kiss given by Judas to Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane leads directly to the arrest of Jesus. The day observed through fasting, prayers and citing biblical verses related to the day.

Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday

It commemorates the Washing of the Feet and the Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles. Jesus washed his disciples’ feet before the last supper as a sign and example of humility and love. Maundy refers to the command that was given by Christ in his last supper; he said “Love one another as I have loved you!” to explain to the Apostles the significance of his action of washing their feet.

On Holy Thursday, bishops and the clergy wash feet of the faithful, following the example of Jesus Christ.

In Ethiopia, this day is known as Tselote Hamus and Ethiopians attend the mass services in churches to remember the last supper and partake in the foot washing ceremony and honor Christ’s humility. Bishops wash the feet of the clergy to remind the benevolent and exemplary task that the Jesus Christ had washed the feet of his disciples revealing love and humility. Followers of the Orthodox Christians prepared a mixture of boiled grains called Gulban to break their feast after church services.

In Russia, Maundy Thursday is called ‘Cleaning Thursday’ where Russians are genuinely busy in cleaning their house and believers also attend church to clean their soul. They also decorate Easter Eggs through boiling the eggs and decorate with food coloring especially with red onion skin that represents the blood of Jesus Christ. Decorating Easter Eggs also practiced in different western countries including England.

Good Friday

It is a day dedicated to commemorate the crucifixion and death Jesus Christ. It is a day of sorrow, penance and fasting for Christians who annually remember the Jesus’ crucifixion.

Members of many Christian denominations, including the Anglican, Catholic, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, Oriental Orthodox, and Reformed traditions, observe Good Friday with fasting and church services

On this day Ethiopian Orthodox Christians attend mass services in churches since early in the morning and spend their time sunset. During their stay at church, the faithful kneel down repeatedly to share the pain of Jesus and request for forgiveness from him for their sins. The crowd, who prayed together throughout the day, departed to their homes when the sun starts to set after being blessed by priests.

On this day, Christians in Britain also remember the death of Jesus through attending church service from midday to 3 PM. The day is celebrated in traditional and colorful manner in Guatemala. Despite the fact that followers in Guatemala make procession throughout the Holy Week, the biggest procession is taking place on Good Friday, particularly in the capital Antigua. The procession had inscribed by UNISCO in 1979 for its cultural and architectural importance.

Holy Saturday

It is the day before Easter and the last day of the Holy Week in which Christians prepare for Easter. It is a day to commemorate the day that Jesus’ body lay in the tomb and the Harrowing of Hell. The Harrowing of Hell is the descent of Jesus Christ into Hell between the time of his crucifixion and his resurrection where he brought salvation to all of the righteous who had died since the beginning of the world.

In Russia, followers go to church with their food to be blessed by priests and attend the church services. The faithful walk around the church and light candles before enter inside the church to attend the service that herald Christ’s resurrection. The same service is also made by Christians in Guatemala. On that day, women carry the image of Holy Virgin Marry, as they dedicated the day to her.

In Ethiopia, Orthodox Christians, dressed white traditional cloths attend the morning prayers and church services in churches. On Saturday night, the faithful, most of them have not had any food or drink since Good Friday, gathered in churches to attend mass services. The services continue until the bell that heralds the rise of Jesus Christ ring by priests around 3am on Saturday . Afterward, the crowds go to their home to break their 55 days fasting season, which they abstained from meat and dairy, and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.